Over the centuries, literary salons have played a historic role in enriching literary and cultural movements. Mecca, Medina, Damascus, Baghdad, and Andalusia have witnessed literary salons that have built bridges between writers and intellectuals, which is something that has had a profound impact on intellectual and cultural life across the region. During the twentieth century, literary salons flourished throughout the Arab world, and perhaps the most famous literary salon that has remained long in the memory of writers and intellectuals was Abbas el-Akkad and May Zaideh’s literary salon in Cairo.
In Saudi Arabia, literary salons played a major and prominent role before the establishment of literary clubs, and they even continued to have an effect following the emergence of these clubs. The hosts of these literary salons played an important role in ensuring their survival and development. There was the Abdul Maqsood Khoja literary salon that was held on Mondays, the Hamad al Jassir literary salon that was held on Thursdays, and the Professor Rashid al Mubarak literary salon that was held on Sundays, to name just a few. Along with a number of my Jeddah-based peers, I am greatly indebted to the Abdul Maqsood Khoja literary salon for introducing me to a number of literary pioneers such as Ahmed Qandeel, Ahmed Abdul Ghafour Attar, Ahmed al Sibaei, Mohammed Hussein Zeidan, Tahir al Zamakshari, Hamad al Jassir, Hussein Seraj “Al Pasha” and Hussein Arab and others.
In this literary salon, generations of intellectuals and writers interacted and discussed topics, and I am still in contact with some of those who attended this literary salon. I can still recall the aroma of brilliance that surrounded those great men, and I can recall the voice of Ahmed Qandeel who greatly loved his hometown Jeddah saying “Write, my boy, about Jeddah. Tell the people about your city of sailboats.” I have also not forgotten the good manners of the wonderful poet and gentleman Mohammad Hassan Faki who, despite his advancing years, had a soaring heart. And the image of Tahir al Zamakshari, a noble dark-skinned fellow who would wear his heart on his sleeve and had a smile for whoever he met also remains firm in my mind. I have also not forgotten the gentleness and elegance of the “Pasha” Hussein Seraj and his passion for Andalusian poetess Wallada Bint al Mustakfi, or writer Mohammed Hussein Zeidan who used to pity us for working in the press!
I am therefore extremely indebted to Abdul Maqsood Khoja’s Monday literary salon, and I owe many of my most cherished memories to this man. Despite living in a materialistic age, Khoja opened his mind, his heart, and his home to bearers of a torch of knowledge that continues to shine down upon us all.